Chapter 29: Let’s Dance

First talon entered Malzonto from beyond its Oort cloud, tightened its formation, and built-up a head of steam for its unpowered journey under cloak.  For the next sixty hours the raiders skulked through the darkness, taking up station behind a blue-green cryo jovian at the edge of the planisphere.  Leaving the rest in ambush, Sidewinder led Amsterdam, Zapata, Catalpa and Zardoz to the orbital station nested above the fifth moon.

“Approaching vessels, identify yourselves.”  No response.  “Say again, this is Malzonto IX orbital control, you have entered restricted space, please identify yourselves.”

            Floyd extended a hand before him as he addressed his gun master.  “You heard the man, tell him who we are.”

            “Sir!” The young traffic controller shouted in alarm.

Commander Biltmore groaned in anguish, busy catching up on maintenance reports and wanting for no interruption.  Three days back from vacation and hardly a dent in the avalanche of backed-up bullshit thanks to the navy showing up unannounced.  Huffing like a bear roused in its cave, he looked up from his desk.

“What the… Fuck me. . .”  The rather stout commander, unaccustomed to sailing through the air, took to it badly and landed poorly.  A volley of EMP missiles caused the repulser field to overload and fail; close behind, a wave of high explosive warheads kissed the unprotected hull.

Breaches tore through entire decks and dozens were swept into the void, many from their beds.  Every button, gauge and screen went dark as the station began to spin at increasing speed.  Upon regaining his feet, the commander was forced to the wall and held there by the force of the rotation.  Through the observation window he could see the rocky surface below them racing by, closer with each revolution.

Forge circled its parent world in a tight orbit, the titan’s grip stretching and torturing the little world into a constant inferno of erupting volcanoes, noxious clouds and lava seas.  Biltmore avoided any sight of it where possible, the place gave him nightmares.  He could scarcely imagine a worse fate.

            Floyd took his ships and made for the edge of the system at best speed, a heavy cruiser and twelve escorts giving chase.  The Federation warships reached the ninth planet just as the orbital facility came crashing down on the volcanic moon below.  The remaining ships of first talon emerged from hiding as the navy raced by, attacking from behind as first spear turned on their pursuers.

            The next twenty minutes saw a maelstrom of laser blasts, rocket, missile and rail gun fire.  They lost Catalpa in the opening moments of the engagement, shattered by the capital ship’s neutron cannon.  Hit squarely on her bow, the corsair was crushed to half her length in a cloud of hot gas and shrapnel.  Containment lost, Catalpa’s hull peeled away like the skin of a fruit and her reactor detonated in a brilliant flash.

Zardoz suffered a similar fate minutes later but dealt a mortal blow before going dark.  Firing her main drives at full power, she jettisoned both engine pods; one striking the cruiser head-on and erupting in a massive fireball.  The huge warship reeled and spun, smashing into one of its own frigates, destroying it utterly, along with the line ship’s drive compartment.

Lucky Lucy, Ali Baba, and Sakr-el-Bahr were lost to escort craft as the corsairs concentrated fire on the cruiser, desperately trying to heel the juggernaut before she could lay ruin to them all.  The huge warship now broken and burning, momentum swung to the Rifters.  The remaining eleven navy craft were dispatched, but not until Amsterdam joined the lost, taking with her the last of the Black Sky Vikings.

Wing Captain Darcy shuddered as he watched his monitor.  Growing up on Nova Guadeloupe, the Vikings were his childhood heroes and she was the first corsair Floyd had served on; accepted into their ranks at sixteen, fulfilling a lifelong dream.  He was forced out three years later when he found himself on the losing side of a power struggle, backing the wrong man for captain.  He long seethed over the affair but years of petty rancor now filled him with shame as he witnessed their demise.  Biting down hard on his lip he compelled himself to focus; the remainder of the task force moving in, it was time to go.

They turned nightward and made for their jump point with all haste, each periodically cutting their drives to spin about and fire on the advancing navy ships.  They were able to break their opponent’s formation, even knocking-out one of the destroyers, but this only hardened the enemy’s resolve.  The hunt was on.


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